“The reason I love zombies . . .”

The speaker has skin the hue of a soft-shell taco. At his jaw line, the taco has been ripped away to expose bleeding gums and skeletal teeth. His right cheek has been chewed into hamburger, the bloody bulge of which keeps his loose eyeball from popping out and rolling across the floor.

All of it make-up. I think.

” . . . is that I hate them so much.”

Love? Hate? Zombies? Sounds like the perfect Halloween romance!

“Zombie Walks and Zombie Cos Play are more than just Halloween hi-jinx.” He sits there educating me between bites of what looks like a plate of brains, but could be spaghetti.

“For the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us. This is just a dress rehearsal for the real thing. Some people say zombies already exist, but the government is hiding them.”

I nod. “And what better place to hide a zombie than in the government? They could pass off as a city clerk. Or a congressman. Who would know?”

“Now don’t joke about zombies,” he advises. “For with all the hard luck Japan has had recently — who knows? — this could well be where it begins. One morning you think your train is packed with sleepy commuters and then you look up and . . . They’re zombies!”

“It’s sort of that way already.”

“See. It’s happening.”

“And so what should I do? Buy a flamethrower? Carry a machete? Stock up on cans of Zombie-off?”

He slurps down a noodle. “Again, I don’t feel you’re being serious enough. We’re not talking old fashioned, voodoo-style hocus pocus here. We’re talking an infectious outbreak brought on by . . . “

He puts down his fork and ticks off the possibilities on his fingers.

“Biological engineering, alien parasites, digital mind control, robot nano-worms . . . ” Then he begins to slow.

“Solar flares . . . um . . . um . . . too much fast food . . . and . . . um.”

I decide to help. “And rampant imagination?”

“I take it,” he says. “You are not a gamer?”

“No. Does that matter?”

“It might help you see the light. And believe.”

“Wait a minute. What if I was a gamer, but I played only Super Mario? Would I then believe in Princess Toadstool?”

“You can be as skeptical as you wish. But around the world, wise people are taking note. When the zombies come, we’ll be ready.”

“Like . . . how?”

“We’re storing food and weapons. Plus studying zombie ways. ‘Know your zombie,’ that’s our motto.”

And it’s true. Sort of. The University of Baltimore — and as a city once home to Edgar Allan Poe, how fitting — offers a course in zombie studies. Centering on literature, film and so on.

“Right, right. There’s not a zombie alive that we can’t kill. And . . . so what will you do when they come?”

That’s easy. “Run like hell.”

“Not the worst of options,” he admits. “Just keep in shape.”

I ask him why he seems so eager for this. And he says:

“Because zombies are what we need.” And, yes, I do request he elaborate.

“It’s not safe to hate anything these days. Our whole world has become too politically correct. Race, religion, gender — each group has its watchdogs and they snarl and snap at even the slightest offense. You dare not utter a discouraging word about anyone. You can’t poke at a polar bear nor sneeze on a sycamore. Animal rights groups, environmentalists, and so on are all ready to pounce!”

“But . . . ” And he grins, which enhances his butchered jaw. “Zombies? They’re still fair game. You can say anything you want about a zombie and nobody cares.”

To which I respond: “Huh?”

“And such hate,” he says, “will pull us together.”

And again . . . “Huh?”

“When the zombies come, all the so-called adversaries will unite. Republican-Democrat, black-white, gay-straight all wrapped arm-in-arm!”

I catch his fever. “East-West! Dog-cat! Pepsi-Coke! Together at last!”

“Yes,” and now he has a preacherly glow about him. “All those petty differences won’t matter anymore. The whole world will be as one. The only thing that will count will be getting the zombies . . . before they get us!”

“Wow. That’s almost cool. Do you suppose it might work with something else just as well? Like telemarketers?”

He ignores me and rises. “Watch this,” he says. And then he stretches his arms to the ceiling and cries. “Death to zombies!”

Everyone in the restaurant freezes. Except for me. I sit and clap politely. He sits back down.

“There will be a day when everyone will applaud! They will whistle and hoot and stomp their feet! All united in brotherly fervor against the zombies!”

But that day is not quite here. Now the waitress is eager to see us go and sisterly-like brings us the bill.

He peruses it. “Gosh. I had no idea it’d be this high. It’s an arm and a leg!”

“Right. Now where’s a zombie when you need one?”

“Just remember,” he tells me. “You can’t beat zombies with jokes.”

“I guess if I can’t beat ’em, I’ll join ’em.”

“How true,” he smiles. “How true.”

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